The power of culture

By Aki Mori

One of the best features of being a multicultural family in the United States is the daily conversations we have about, well, culture. Malcolm Gladwell famously contends in his “10,000 hour rule” that what we recognize as genius in any given field is frequently not about innate talent. Instead, brilliance and mastery comes from unusual exposure and practice–10,000 hours of it. Engineers often endow their children with expertise in science and math. Former athletes might produce physically talented kids. In mine and my wife’s case, all we have to offer our children is knowledge of culture, and so we do so intentionally and with gusto.

Most people understand the power of culture in a general sort of way. After all, culture includes language, religion, philosophy, history, music, health, and values. At the same time, as a modern American parent I do wonder in what ways cultural intelligence can be parlayed by my daughters into careers that will be fulfilling and sustaining. Is it too much to hope that my daughters are future Madame Secretaries of State?

Aki Mori and wife Katie with their daughters Midori, 10, and Ayumi, 7.

Aki Mori and wife Katie with their daughters Midori, 10, and Ayumi, 7.

I can’t wait for my wife and daughters to return from Taiwan. I was just with them there for one week, but had to return ahead of them because of work. My wife grew up in Taiwan, and immigrated to the United States during her high school years. Being Japanese, I only know Taiwan through her. And as for my daughters, after so many years of talking about Asia around our dinner table, this was finally their first ever trip there! Needless to say, we’ll have lots to talk about.

For example: How is it that even with Kaiser coverage, I have to pay over $100 out of pocket for eyeglasses, but I can walk into any eyeglass store on any street in Taipei, take a quick eye exam, and cover the entire cost of a similar pair for less than $50? Economics is certainly an overlooked element of culture.

Did you know that 7-Eleven convenience stores are everywhere in Taiwan? I’ll ask my kids for their thoughts on that because (true story) as I was driving home from the airport, I saw that our local 7-Eleven, one of only a few in town, got boarded up and went out of business in our absence. Why do Taiwanese love 7-Elevens like they do? They don’t even sell Slurpees there, which is the only redeeming value of the chain–at least in its American form.

Ayumi (foreground) and Midori enjoy Taipei's night lights, including a 7-Eleven.

Ayumi (foreground) and Midori enjoy Taipei’s night lights, including a 7-Eleven.

To be sure we’ll share our observations and thoughts related to consumerism, living spaces, climate, language fluency and the invigorating sensation of living and breathing among people that look like us. Too, there are other conversations with my girls that I’ll hold in abeyance until they’ve accumulated more such authentic experiences in Asia. Some day I’ll ask them what they feel about the pursuit of happiness, an American concept that their beloved grandparents reject categorically. They’re too young to have noticed the modesty of Asian women, which I pray they will adopt, instead of the sexualized approach that is expected in the West. I don’t worry a bit about them being influenced by Asian rigidity and conformity — after all, American individualism is something I cherish absolutely.

Taken to its furthest reaches, being a multicultural family means we don’t necessarily have to spend our entire lives living in the United States. In fact, my wife, children, and I have been tossing about some ideas, which if they come to fruition will certainly be worth sharing next year in Voices of August 2015. Stay tuned?

Aki Mori will be entering his third year as an assistant principal at Gresham High School this fall. 


Editor’s note: I met Aki in 2009 after I published an op-ed piece he submitted to The Oregonian. The common denominator? One of his first jobs as an educator was in the New Haven School District in Union City, California — the working-class, Mexican American town where I attended school through the fourth grade. Aki is a gentleman in every sense of the word.


Tomorrow: “The cadence and sting of the jellyfish” by Andrea Cano



6 thoughts on “The power of culture

  1. Thank you, Aki, for talking about your family and what culture means. We live on such a small planet and we are all connected. You and your wife clearly are teaching that to your children at a young age. Changing our world begins with changing what and how we teach our children. You give me hope that we humans can make this world better … we just have to try and believe that we can.

  2. Darn! I couldn’t bring up the picture of you and your family. It must be my computer. So lovely to hear about your children’s travels. What I would have given to have visited some place like Taiwan as a little boy! I got the next best thing…camping in the Oregon State Parks. Anyway, I love the rich cultural heritage of the USA. We are truly a nation of immigrants. Some say we are a melting pot, but I like to think we’re a banquet. An all you can eat banquet at that!

  3. You say that all you have to offer your children is knowledge of culture. I say, what else is there? One of my besties is an expat currently living in Hong Kong and I’m constantly jealous of the wide array of people, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc. they get to be exposed to. You’re giving that to your kids through travel and possible relocation, but I think those conversations about culture around the dinner table have even more impact. It’s something I need to add to my parenting repertoire.

  4. Staying tuned. And cheers to the future Madame Secretaries. Cheers, too, to being able to be a cultural educator for your kids. (I might need to find tutor?)
    And I wanted to say cheers to the grandparents who rightly reject the pursuit-of-happiness concept. I’m with them. I am curious about their reasoning. I think the pursuit is most often a disease, and that happiness is in us or it isn’t, for reasons that are numerous. People in America, perhaps especially at this time in history and in my age group on down, are too often driven by circumstances, think love is something you find, rather than grow and maintain, etc., etc., etc. etc. I’ll shut up, though, and thank you for the piece!

  5. I am so grateful for people open to diversity and the knowledge therein. I am also grateful that my children have more opportunities to learn more about different cultures. Although they may not be able to travel to these places they learn of in school, they live vicariously through the exciting knowledge the teachers bring to them(of Spain this year and Germany and China the next two years). Thank you for all you do for your school and the families! (I hope I used vicarious correctly, I love the word!) 😀

    • Great comment, Starr. Yes, you used “vicariously” properly — which is exactly how I feel reading about your interesting lives in Alaska. It helps that I’ve been to your massive state three times. Gotta work in plans for Visit No. 4 sometime in the next couple years.

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